Karapatan: Cordillera ELCAC resolution violates right to freedom of association

Karapatan strongly condemns Resolution No. 2023-04 issued by the PTF-ELCAC (Provincial Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict) of Kalinga province entitled “A Resolution Strongly Urging All Cities and Municipalities of Kalinga to Require All Entities Representing Themselves as Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) to Secure Permission from LGUs Concerned Before the Conduct of Any Activity in the LGU.” The same resolution includes a list issued by the Philippine Army 50th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) of 18 Cordillera-based NGOs labelled as “sectoral front organizations” of the communist movement.

The red-tagged organizations on the list range from Karapatan’s chapter, the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance, the progressive multi-sectoral Cordillera Peoples Alliance to LGBTQ rights organization Bahaghari. They are organizations that have been instrumental in promoting and protecting human rights, especially those of the indigenous Cordillerans. They are also involved in education and training to raise the Cordillerans’ human rights awareness, and provide services such as medical and dental care and access to clean water to underserved communities in the region as well as to oppressed sections of society such as political prisoners, torture victims and victims of displacement due to disasters, militarization and a host of other natural and human-induced emergencies. In many cases, they undertake these projects in partnership with local and community organizations as well as local government units.

By red-tagging these organizations, the PTF-ELCAC not only endangers them, rendering them even more vulnerable to threats, harassment and intimidation, they deprive so many underserved communities of the services they provide.

This resolution likewise undermines the fundamental principles of freedom of association and is violative of international laws and human rights norms. The listed organizations have been arbitrarily red-tagged, despite their being accredited and compliant with local government ordinances and regulations. None of them has been found guilty of any violation, making these actions baseless and unjust.

Freedom of association is a fundamental human right, enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the Philippine Constitution and protected and guaranteed by international legal instruments, including Articles 20 and 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The right to freely associate is crucial for people’s organizations and civil society organizations to carry out their essential work in promoting social justice, human rights and sustainable development. They play a vital role in facilitating grassroots participation, advocating for marginalized groups, and holding governments accountable for their actions. Restricting their activities through mandatory permissions and endangering their members through red-tagging undermine their ability to fulfill their missions and is deleterious to the people’s interests.

We call on the Kalinga provincial government to review this resolution, which dangerously puts human rights defenders in harm’s way. We likewise call on the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to look into this latest attempt by the NTF-ELCAC and its subalterns to vilify and imperil people’s movements and associations. The CHR must be true to its mandate of taking to task the Philippine government for failing to comply with its international human rights commitments to safeguard freedom of association, guarantee the safety and well-being of people’s organizations, NGOs and their members, and put an end to the harassment and intimidation faced by these organizations.

Karapatan stands in solidarity with the CHRA and other affected organizations elsewhere in the country. We will not waver in our efforts to build a just society that protects and advances the rights and dignity of all.